Think Big on Rail Opportunity
The regions we are competing with are thinking big. They are making key decisions to position themselves to beat us. They want to attract the talent we are seeking to attract. They want the companies we believe would be a good fit here. And they wouldn’t mind stealing a few of our existing employers or top employees.
We’ve got to keep pace. That includes maintaining what we’ve got and attracting new people and companies to help grow our economy. New housing and job opportunities will help. Better schools, strong neighborhoods, quality entertainment and recreation opportunities all contribute. Quality of place improvements like those in the Regional Cities program should help grow population.
Our investment in infrastructure is also an important factor. Enhancements to US 31, US 20 and I 80/90 all play a big part in getting people to and from our area. The airport plays a vital role because of its easy connections to major markets in the United States and around the world. And rail will play an increased role in the future both in the movement of freight and the movement of people.
The business community believes passenger rail could be big advantage in our effort to compete as a quick connection to one of the largest economies of the world is a real plus that not everyone can boast about. The South Shore railroad has plans for several improvements that will get the trip down to a ninety-minute connection to Chicago by 2020. The trip currently takes two hours and twenty minutes.
Why ninety minutes? I believe that number is key. When I’ve analyzed commuting patterns and the type of businesses and people that have been attracted to areas within ninety minutes of major metropolitan areas, I think it can be a game changer for our area.
I hope people that live in Chicago will work here, that people that live here can work in Chicago, and that a quicker ride means a better connection to the arts, entertainment and cultural opportunities that exist in the Chicago area. And Chicago people can experience the same about our area.
As the details are being developed about the improvement project and its exact location, neighbors have reacted to the uncertainty and attempted to put the brakes on the project. The neighbors wonder if the ten minutes of time savings are worth it. If all the communities along the way took similar approaches, we would never get to ninety minutes and never realize the full potential. Every minute counts and we all must do our part.
The City has now pressed pause too and has gone back to the drawing board with consideration of a downtown location, a location near the Honeywell factory, the airport, or another location. I was just in Washington and fear the uncertainty could impact our ability to tap into federal funds.
Downtown gets studied every few years. We anticipate it will be ruled out again as it has been many times before because its cost prohibitive. The Honeywell location isn’t ideal either, for the same reasons the nearby Amtrak location isn’t ideal. That location isn’t as easy to get to and presents limited development opportunities near the proposed station.
I think the airport is a good fit for the train. I believe the development
opportunities available to the west of airport are a real advantage and ultimately makes the project about more than just moving people back and forth. Like our competition is doing, we have to think big about this once a generation opportunity and move forward.